RENO, Nevada (VN) — You can see why the Belgians took a liking to Jonathan Page.
Page is friendly but not boisterous, immensely talented but not one to flaunt it. The taciturn New Englander spent 13 years based in the cyclocross heartland, honing his craft and eventually getting top results. His success sprung from his understated dedication to the muddy, chaotic sport that Belgian cycling fans adore.
Wearing a homemade, Belgian-style “supporters” jacket at Page’s final USA Cycling National Cyclocross Championships in Reno, his sister Joy pointed to the Belgian flag on one shoulder. She explained how, after Page’s silver medal at 2007 world cyclocross championships, the fans insisted that he’d become an honorary Belgian — one of them.
Though he spent much of his career overseas, Page won four U.S. national championships in a career that spans more than 20 years. On Sunday, Page lined up for one final run at a Stars and Stripes jersey. With only five UCI race starts to his credit in this swansong season and facing a high-speed, dry course, Page was not a top favorite to win. But he raced consistently and ended up ninth.
We caught up with Page before the Reno championships to look back on his career and his results at the national championships.
VeloNews: Tell us some memories of your first national championships as an elite racer.
Jonathan Page: It’s so far back I can’t remember. Well, you know I did the SeaTac airport race in Washington, in I guess Tacoma [in 1994]. I did the junior race in the morning, won that one [by nearly four minutes -Ed.], and did the senior race in the afternoon. That was back when they had them in the same day.
I think I got third-ish in the senior event [Page finished fourth, despite a last-lap flat tire -Ed.]. Somewhere up there. I can’t remember. It’s been awhile.
VN: Can you rank your wins in terms of your favorite?
JP: I think the favorite one was the last one in Madison, Wisconsin [in 2013].
Bob Downs being there — the Planet Bike owner at the time. It was really cool. My friend Jerry [Chabot] helped me get to the bike race because I wasn’t going to come, helped me get to the bike race from Europe. That was a special one. And my bike sponsor not continuing and having to put duct tape over it. That’s fun, I like that. I like to surprise.
VN: I got to think that’s some of the worst conditions you’ve raced for a national championship.
JP: That was definitely the worst and the best for me. The worst and the best all at the same time.
I can’t remember another national championships like this weather [in Reno]. Can you?
VN: Maybe Boulder?
JP: Yeah right, Boulder. This is out-west bike racing.
VN: When did you realize that you were made for really hard muddy conditions?
JP: I think just at a young age, growing up in New England and having to train. Frankie McCormack, we’d go out training no matter the weather. Thirty-four degrees and rain with snow on the ground you know because it snowed over night and it’d get warm during the day, and you’d still be out there. The hard conditions are the good conditions. I like ‘em.
VN: You’ve raced for so long, the ‘cross scene has changed a lot in that time. What’s the biggest change you’ve seen?
JP: I just like that there are spectators here now and more people who are good. The depth is a bit better. Of course it’s not the same as Europe, but that doesn’t even need to be said I guess. I just love the popularity. There are people roaming around already, cheering an under-23 kid on to the finish line. It’s pretty cool.
VN: Over those years, can you think of one of the hardest duels you’ve had with a rider?
JP: Tim Johnson and I were always pinned against each other even though we didn’t not like each other or anything like that. It just was the way — I think it made for a good story. That would be the rider I can think of as I progressed through the years.
We never really talked to each other until recently, but we were like, ‘Eh I didn’t really have a problem with you; you have a problem with me?’ ‘No I didn’t really.’”
VN: It’s racing, right?
JP: That’s exactly right.
VN: It seems there are fewer mountain bikers racing ‘cross at the elite level these days, like Ryan Trebon and Barry Wicks. What do you think about that?
JP: I think it’s become more of a specialized sport. It’s specific timing of the year; people have gotten smarter with their training and racing energy. I think that’s it really. You either specialized in cyclocross, or you come out and you just one-bang wonder and go for it.
VN: What’s next for you?
JP: I’m going to go out on the course in 15 minutes … [laughs].
No, I’ve been fall clean-up guy around Park City with an old pick’em-up truck and bellman right now. What’s next, it’s just continuing. I’ve been putting that stuff in for getting my kids to be able to go ski racing. I’m going to be the importer or dealer for Dugast tires. I rekindled that relationship just a week or so ago with Richard [Nieuwhuis] at Dugast. I’ll bring those tires in and sell a good product. That’s something new for me. It’s going to be great. If you’re talking about cycling, that’s what I’m doing next. Bliz eyewear and helmets — I’m trying to get them more into … You’ve probably never heard of them I bet. Scandinavian countries is the biggest — they’re more into Nordic skiing and goggles and ski helmets and stuff too. They’re going to be giving me an opportunity to try to use my so-called fame to get them into cycling.
VN: I think you’re pretty famous.
JP: Yeah you know what’s famous really? A couple people know what the hell I’m doing. That’s about it.